Russian funds may lift economy

Just as foreign direct investment from the countries that have issued hundreds of billions of euros to Greece has all but dried up, Russian investment is beginning to grow, injecting some much-needed cash into the economy in direct or indirect fashion, as the fresh cases of Public Gas Corporation (DEPA) and Marfin Popular Bank illustrate.

The state privatization fund (TAIPED) announced on Wednesday the launch of the tender process for DEPA and for the natural gas grid operator (DESFA) as it called for expressions of interest in either or both of the state-owned companies. Up for grabs are the 100 percent stake in DEPA and a 66 percent stake in DESFA.

The expressions of interest must come by March 22 and the whole process must last no longer than 20 weeks, although there is already strong interest being expressed unofficially from Russia, according to sources. TAIPED?s announcement came one day after a top official from Russian energy giant Gazprom met with Greek authorities on Tuesday, which bodes very well for the tender.

Gazprom confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that its export director Alexander Medvedev?s talks with Energy Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou in Athens focused on ?the prospects of privatization of Greek energy companies DEPA and DESFA.?

Athens-listed Marfin Popular Bank, the second-largest lender in Cyprus, saw its stock soar 27 percent on the Greek bourse yesterday after the bank said it received approaches from ?credible? strategic investors to help the firm meet capital requirements. It followed a report in Cypriot newspaper Politis suggesting that Russian lender VTB Bank OJSC is locked in negotiations for participation in a share capital increase that will effectively entail a takeover.

In a statement issued yesterday VTB, Russia?s second-biggest lender, denied that it is in talks with Marfin, while the Cypriot bank said it could not make any further comments. It is understood that it will soon proceed to a share capital increase of 1.3 billion euros with VTB entering with 1 billion euros.

Marfin Popular Bank announced yesterday it posted a loss of 2.5 billion euros in 2011 after writing down holdings of Greek government bonds and after increasing provisions for bad loans.